Family and domestic violence a ‘preventable’ epidemic: refuge boss

Zonta House chief executive Kelda Oppermann has been nominated for a Telstra Business Women’s Award. Photo: Bella Moments Photography.
Zonta House chief executive Kelda Oppermann has been nominated for a Telstra Business Women’s Award. Photo: Bella Moments Photography.

The chief executive of one of the state’s largest women’s refuges has called family and domestic violence a “preventable” national epidemic.

Zonta House Refuge Association chief executive Kelda Oppermann, a state finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards, believes a sustained commitment to preventing the issue at tertiary, secondary and primary levels is needed to cause a drop in family and domestic violence rates.

Statistics released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2018 found intimate partner violence was the greatest health risk factor for women aged between 25–44 years old and eight woman a day on average are hospitalised after being assaulted by their spouse or partner.

Since she began her time with the Willetton-based women’s refuge, Mrs Opperman has overseen the implementation of a number of community-orientated programs aiming to prevent family and domestic violence incidents.

She said long term investment across the spectrum would help minimise family and domestic violence incidents, which cost WA an estimated $2.8 billion per year.

“Family and domestic violence is a national epidemic and it is preventable. We need policy makers to understand the devastating impacts and prevalence of family and domestic violence and that it cannot be siloed in one portfolio,” Mrs Oppermann said.

“We need change to our systems that currently support the ongoing trauma and increase the risk of safety for victims and survivors.”

Zonta House chief executive Kelda Oppermann. Photo: Bella Moments Photography.

Mrs Oppermann said while recent steps taken at state and federal level had been positive, there was still a lot more work to be done.

“I am optimistic that it is on the agenda but it requires more urgency and investment to have a significant impact in the short and long term,” she said.

“An ongoing challenge is seeking long-term and new funding for programs that can evidence a significant difference to someone’s well-being and safety.”

Inspired by inspirational women

Running a women’s refuge and working in an environment which deals with the horrors of family and domestic violence on a day-to-day basis could be draining.

However, Mrs Oppermann draws strength from the women who seek out their services and witnessing the positive changes they make as a result.

“The greatest joy and success for me is seeing the resilience and determination of women in our programs and it is a privilege to hold hope and walk alongside each and every individual,” she said.

“Seeing women regain their confidence, self-worth and support them to feel safe, connected and contributing to the community is rewarding.”

Mrs Oppermann’s dream is for an environment where ongoing investment in preventing family and domestic violence means there is no need for crisis services.

Until the dream becomes a reality, she will continue to fight those who need her help.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence issues, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 and Crisis Care Hotline.